Various countries across Asia and the Pacific are experiencing their first major spike of COVID-19 cases which lead to implementation of tough restrictions on Friday. In the recent months the number of infections has been rapidly increasing hence the authorities hope the measures can slow the spread before health care systems are overwhelmed.
But by imposing firm travel restrictions combined with tough measures at home many Asian countries have been successful in avoiding the earlier cycle. Now some countries are seeing record numbers of new cases and even deaths, blamed in part on the highly contagious delta variant combined with low rates of vaccination and decisions to ease restrictions that have hit economies hard.
Though overall numbers are nowhere yet near those seen during outbreaks in hotspots in Europe and the United States, but the speedy spike in the cases have set off alarm bells just as many Western countries with high vaccine rates began to breathe a sigh of relief. Meanwhile Thailand recorded a number of new deaths on Thursday with 75 — and they came in at 72 on Friday.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, South Korea has set a record for number of new cases on Thursday, only to break it on Friday with 1,316 infections.
Indonesia for the first time, is seeing a surge that has hospitals turning patients away and oxygen supplies running out. Of Thailand’s 317,506 confirmed cases and 2,534 deaths since the pandemic started, more than 90% have come since the start of April.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s handling of the surge has been widely criticized, including the decision to allow people to travel for April’s Songkran festival celebrating Thailand’s New Year.
Thailand already has harsh regulations on wearing masks and other rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but even more stringent measures were announced by the government on Friday for Bangkok and the surrounding area, including closing spas, limiting the hours of public transit, and restricting the opening times of markets and convenience stores.
A resident Cherkarn Rachasevet, a 60-year-old IT analyst, who hustled to the grocery store to stock up on supplies after hearing new restrictions were coming, wearing four masks and a face shield said, “There is something wrong with the government policies, our vaccinations are too slow, and we should get better vaccines.”
Meanwhile, a shortage in vaccine supplies has left 70% of the population still waiting for their first shot. However, the recent death toll has declined, and authorities attribute that to the fact that many who have been vaccinated were at-risk older Koreans.
In the Seoul area, the authorities have announced that starting Monday they would put the strongest restrictions yet, amid the rising cases in the infections.
Those include shutting down nightclubs and churches, banning visitors at hospitals and nursing homes and limiting weddings and funerals to family-only gatherings and prohibiting private social gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m.
Vietnam was able to limit its total coronavirus cases to 2,800 during the first year of the pandemic, and reported almost no new cases in the three months up to the end of April when they began to climb rapidly.
In the last two months, the country has reported some 22,000 new cases, and the less strict restrictions imposed so far have been unable to stem the spike.
Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said during a government meeting Thursday evening that, “It is a difficult decision to lock down the city, but it is necessary to curb the pandemic and get back to normalcy.”